West Region: No. 1 Connecticut (29-4) vs. No. 5 Purdue (27-9)
When: Thursday, 7:07 p.m., EDT
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
1) More Than the Sum of their Parts The Huskies have made a habit of winning without key individuals all season long. Forward Stanley Robinson sat out eight games of this season as part of a voluntary suspension from the team, returning shortly before conference play began. Right about the time Robinson shook the rust off, Junior Guard Jerome Dyson went down with a season-ending knee injury. UConn was still able to finish the season with four wins and two losses (both to Pitt), garnering a #1 seed.
2) Coach Feels Lousy? Good! UConn head coach Jim Calhoun fell mysteriously ill just before the Huskies' first-round win over the Chattanooga Mocs, leaving former Holy Cross head man George Blaney to run the team. You'd think this kind of thing would be a distraction for the team, but not so much. Turns out Calhoun had similar bouts of the 24-hour whoopsies in 1999 and 2004, both years in which UConn won championships. Looks like ol' Jim is leaving nothing to chance this season.
3) Wide Margins We can be forgiven for wondering if anyone plans to show up and take the floor against UConn in Glendale. Lord knows, the first two Husky opponents of the tournament were barely there. The Chattanooga Mocs fell 103-47 (a 56-point margin) and more robust opponent Texas A&M was able to keep the margin of crushing defeat to a respectable 26 points. Add a stiff shot of defense to your next Boilermaker—you're going to need it. — Eric Angevine (Storming The Floor)
1) Big Shot Rob Robbie Hummel was pre-season Big Ten Player of the Year...and as he got healthy late in the regular season (hey, if you haven't heard, he has a stress fracture in his back and wears a plastic brace—CBS even has pictures to prove it!), it became obvious just how valuable he is for Matty Painter's squad. He was the Big Ten Tourney MVP because of his ability to always be near the ball and to make things happen on offense...but he's a dead-eye shooter and that's why he gets so much respect. He even earned a spot on SI's regional cover prior to the Purdue v. UNI game (the same SI that, in their bracket, referred to "Keady-like defense" when talking about a team Keady hasn't coached in five years)...but Robbie's first two rounds were as quiet as IU's Memorial Stadium on a fall afternoon. (Hey-yo!) So we think he's long overdue. He's averaging 8 points and 9 boards per game in the tournament—he's usually a 12.4/7.
2) Miles to go before they sleep. Purdue's team decided to forego returning to West Lafayette for two days following their win over Washington in Portland, Oregon, and instead decided to go directly to Arizona to prepare for the round of 16 in Glendale. UConn, conversely, slept in their own beds until Tuesday when they headed west. We'll see if the time change/environmental change has any effect on the favored Huskies. The dry air in Arizona takes some getting used to. If UConn struggles with cramps while the Boilers don't on Thursday, Matty will look like even more of an evil genius...Hopefully this tactic doesn't prompt the Boilers to spend too many nights in Detroit if they should move on to the Final Four.
3) For our next trick, we'll make our offense disappear. If you've watched any Purdue basketball this year, you know a few things. First, Matty Painter is a handsome devil. Second, Purdue's offense has the Copperfield-like ability to disappear, without any warning, at any time. And finally, defense makes this team go. It's been said that a 10-point lead for Purdue is like a 20-point lead for many other teams. We saw just how important the defense was versus Washington as Purdue's JaJuan Johnson altered an estimated seven Huskies shots in the final three minutes and had two outright blocks in the closing seconds of Purdue's win last round. On an unrelated note, JaJuan doesn't like it when dogs stick their tongues out at him. — Boiled Sports